The mad mind at work.

Here’s Why Artist Jack Irvine Is Hitting His Straps

We pull focus on this month’s cover artist

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You may remember Jack Irvine from previous issues of SW. He’s the 26-year-old artist dude from Cronulla who (along with his Aussie/Egyptian buddy Aaron Girgis) helped kick start the Space 44 Gallery as well as develop and design their own music festival for the youth of the area (Sounds of the Suburbs). You also may have seen his work on Skegss posters, tees and socks from Freo to Maroochydore or, if you’re really lucky, you might even have caught his travelling art show touring the country in the back of a hire truck. And when he’s not arting? Well he likes to unwind by pulling into triple overhead slabs on one of Cronulla’s infamous rock ledges. Yep, Jack Irvine is an artist on a mad tear, and though his work may not be everyone’s definition of high end, it’s penetration into youth culture leaves no doubt he’s reflecting the mood and feel of the times we live in today as good as anyone out there.

SW: We’ve been talking for some time about doing this interview, maybe two years and I remember the night we first brought it up you said to me, “Yeah you should do it, I’m the best artist in Australia right now.”
JI: (Laughs) …aaah man, I must have been pissed. Claiming it. Talking myself up.

At Splendour this year I must have seen 300 kids wearing Skegss tees, socks and hats. All your art. You’re work is everwhere man!
Yeah it’s pretty sick, I love that. Skegss are getting bigger and bigger and all the kids who love them and love wearing their merch are the sickest. And it’s definitely a buzz to see that stuff getting around because as well as representing the Skegss it’s also a very true representation of my own work. It’s all drawings out of one of my sketch books, whacked on a tee shirt.

They say great art holds a mirror up to society and acts as a reflection of what’s going on at that time. Are you feeling that’s true of your work based on how much it’s getting around?
I think it’s seeping through and becoming a part of the culture in some circles for sure. I do try to incorporate observations from my life into my work. A lot of the drawings I do of guys with shaved heads and the punk aesthetic are based on the older guys I see at the pubs who are still loving their beers and rollies and rock and roll. And there’s a definite blending going on at the moment. What was cool 20 or 30 years ago, the guys who were around then and who loved pub culture are now mixing with our generation, who are only just discovering that scene and the music and everything else that comes with it. When I was 18 going to the pub wasn’t cool. You went to clubs. You went to Kings Cross and took pingas and had all night blow outs and stuff, but now you can chill. You go to the pub, drink a few beers with your mates and watch a some sick bands. That’s what’s poppin’ right now.

You’ve got these mulleted, mohawked, speed dealer sunnies wearing punk/bogan characters all through your work but they’re not dark are they? They’re full of colour and really fun.
You can create so many different energies and feelings using colour and what I’m trying to create is a fast paced, positive feeling within the paintings. You can do that really quickly when you let the colours explode. I do understand why people feel conservative when it comes to colour, not everyone wants to dress in hand painted suits or dresses because not everyone wants to stand out. Not everyone is crazy. But people can tap into that craziness by looking at a painting and I love the avenue of being able to connect someone to that feeling and those emotions. In saying that, things like the old Mambo tee shirts aren’t as popular as they once were. We seem to be more concerned about what other people think and less proud to be loud.

Thunder and chunder. Irvine gets cannoned into the channel from the bowls of Shark Island before hitting the pub for a quiet schooner. (Aquabumps)

There’s an unapologetic youthfulness to your art. The sophistication is hidden by the rawness of it.
Sure. That’s on purpose. It definitely is. Ever since I started doing art I’ve never been interested in trying to please the art world or people who have an understanding of art already. I want it to be something that’s accessible and has instant impact. I’ve always been inspired by punk music and garage music for the same reasons, because when I hear something simple in music, I have an instant emotional reaction. It makes me want to move. It motivates me to create things. So I’m trying to do that with my art. If I can keep it fairly simple in execution but still have different layers within the concept or ideas or story behind it, then hopefully it can reach people that didn’t grow up in the art world, who’re not pretentious, who don’t have an inbuilt need to be critical based on what people tell them art should be.

And your intent is to make people feel good ?
Man that’s the exactly the point of it. I want to give a positive feeling to people who see it.

Do you consider your work as surf art?
Surf art? Nah. I definitely don’t.

Cool art, fast suits.

Most really great surfers who are gifted with artistic skill generally get pigeonholed as surf art dudes.
Yeah, well look at Ozzie. Cause he’s a pro surfer people think he’s a surf art guy, but his art is so far beyond that. I mean, he has painted pictures of surfing and characters who surf which puts him into that surf art category, but you know that his influences have come from everywhere, not just surfing, and I think that goes for the influence he’s had during his career too, it stretches well beyond the surf bubble.

It’s a funny term surf artist, but I guess it’s less a categorisation and more about guys who have contributed or influenced surf culture. Everyone from Rick Griffin through to the Mambo artists and Ben Brown and Nanda Ormond have all enjoyed success outside surfing.
If  I could tap that I’d be so stoked.

Tell us about your mobile art exhibition?
A good buddy of mine Nicholas Chalmers did a truck tour ten years ago, just packed up his art in a truck and showed it around. I approached him about it because I really thought it was the sickest idea and I wanted do my own interpretation of it. So I hired a truck, decked it out with wood walls, lights, step up a stage with fake doors that I put my suits behind. It was a moving gallery I could take wherever I wanted. And the human contact was amazing. This all became part of the Skegss tour. We lined the dates up and basically drove the truck to the venue and parked out front so all the crew going in to see the band would stop in and have a look. A lot of them didn’t know I did all the art for the Skegss so it was cool for them to make that connection, but even randoms were coming up just so pumped on the idea.

And you went to England?
Yeah I went with Misfit Shapes. It was pretty chill. We did some shows, two in Newquay and one in Bristol, I did some festivals and checked out London. I didn’t tap into the art scene that much, just the surf scene really.

You’re a loon dog in the water. Where did you get your love of big, heavy waves?
I love it. I love the adrenaline. I get bored surfing small waves. Surfing Shark Island you don’t have to hassle that much for waves. There’s a line-up and an unspoken priorty set up. It’s kind of the opposite to anything art related but it’s so fun.

Art has to be fearless to matter though doesn’t it? Do you reckon there’s something about being fearless in big waves that might have helped you on your artistic journey?
I reckon there is something to that actually. Even when I was young, like four or five, I was never afraid to be alone and that’s carried throughout my life. If someone doesn’t like what I’m into or what I want to do, I don’t care, I’m happy to do it by myself. When I was younger surfing around Cronulla there weren’t that many kids my age who wanted to surf the waves I wanted to surf. I’d go out by myself. And there’d be older guys out there who would give me advice on how to surf the Island and Cape Solander and a few of the other waves around, but a lot of the time I was out there by myself trying to figure it out. A lot of other kids didn’t want to come out or surf by themselves. They needed a buddy.

How far forward do you look in terms of your ambitions?
I don’t have a path or know where I’m going exactly. It’s all new to me. I look at guys like Reg Mombassa, who’s had such a unique path, through music and then Mambo and then exploding into Australian popular culture. I’d love to pull off something like that. I’m interested in doing art shows that based in stories. I don’t take myself too seriously, I wanna have as much fun with it as I can but I would like the art to be respected. I don’t take the piss too much with my art. Myself I can take the piss out of as much as I want. I don’t know if I’ll ever be an important artist, maybe I’ll disappear. Who knows? All I know is if I have a whack idea I have to make it happen. And if no one cares or thinks its funny or good enough then whatever… at least I enjoyed making it. It’s like that with bands as well. I always relate my art to music and how bands are doing things. I remember seeing this interview on Youtube with Jared Swilley from The Black Lips and the was saying “We were just young and we thought ‘Stuff it! If we’re gonna do this then let’s jump in and go for it. We’ll live on the road and have no money and music will be our lives and that’s it. There’ll be nothing else.’” And they pulled it. If they’d worked a part time job and been only half way… they might still have done some sick songs, but they might also have faded away. But because they dived into the deep end they made it happen.

If you’re half committed you get a half result. It’s true of anything in life. Do you feel like you’re part of something, a movement within youth culture that’s happening in Australia right now?
Oh man. For sure. Skegss, Wash, all those boys, Beau Foster, Creedo, Ellis, they’re ahead of their time. They’re a crew of guys doing really cool shit and they’re already having an influence on the next generation of kids coming in behind them. They’re creating so many  pathways and the kids are seeing that and now they’re wanting different things. It’s all been so serious and guarded and careful for so long, probably because of the way the internet is so judgmental, but now those guys are tearing down walls and showing the way and the kids are ditching the conventional structures to experience life on their own terms, even with their surfing. It’s becoming more like skating. The surfing worlds are splitting, man. Comp surfing and freesurfing are drifting miles apart again, cultural centrepoints moving in opposite directions simply because the option is there to do something different. It’s an amazing atmosphere to be making art in.

Vaughan Blakey